Washington State wraps up the non-conference schedule tonight with their annual Cougar Hardwood Classic at KeyArena in Seattle. Pepperdine will be this year's opponent and the Waves are the fourth West Coast Conference team the Cougars have played this season. WSU lost to Gonzaga in their opener before defeating Portland and Santa Clara.
Since its inception in 2005, every Cougar Hardwood Classic has been televised by what is now called ROOT Sports Northwest. That streak will end tonight, as the only people that will be viewing the game will be those that are in the arena. It appears that scheduling the game at the same time as a University of Washington home game was a bad idea. Just another reason to look forward to the new TV deal and the Pac-12 networks.
As for the competition, the Waves have already defeated one Pac-12 opponent this season, the Arizona State Sun Devils. At the time, it seemed like a massive upset. As the year has gone along we've seen that Pepperdine was just the first of many teams to humiliate Herb Sendek's squad (Northern Arizona topped them for most embarrassing loss).
Pepperdine legend Tom Asbury retired after last season, leaving the job to assistant Marty Wilson. This is Wilson's first full-time stint as a Division I head basketball coach. He had previously been an interim coach for Pepperdine in the 1995-96 season.
The biggest change so far between the two coaches seems to be the pace at which they play the game. Asbury's teams were typically in the middle of the pack nationally in terms of possessions per game (usually at around 67). Wilson's team this year has played much slower, with an adjusted tempo of about 63 possessions a game. That makes them the 323rd slowest team in the country.
After the jump, offensive and defensive previews.
The Waves have been offensively challenged in 2011, especially when it comes to making two-point baskets. Pepperdine is only making 40% of their shots inside the arc, which puts them 333rd in the country. Solid outside shooting (40% from three) helps, but their overall eFG% is still at 46%. That is about 3% lower than the national average.
Taylor Darby will be the guy who takes the most shots for Pepperdine. He is a 6-8 forward who has not attempted a three all season. He is making 51% of his twos. His frontcourt mate, Corbin Moore, is only hitting on 43% of two-pointers despite his 6-10 stature. Moore will occasionally shoot from three, where he has made 5 of 9 on the year.
Nikolas Skouen is the team's primary catch-and-shoot guy, as he has taken almost twice as many threes as anybody on the team. He is hitting 40%, so WSU needs to keep an eye on him beyond the arc. Caleb Willis is effective from the outside (52%) but has been awful from two (26%). Off the bench look for Hector Harold to try and make an impact. He leads the team in shot percentage but has not performed well, posting a 43 eFG%
Turnovers have been an issue for the Waves. They are giving it away on 23% of their possessions (just about the same as WSU). As the point guard, Willis is the main culprit here, posting a 25.4 TO rate. However, that is going to look worse because he doesn't shoot many shots. Turnover rate is turnovers divided by possessions used. A possession used can be a shot, turnover, or going to the line for free throws. Someone who doesn't take many shots but is put into a lot of high-risk situations (like a point guard) will tend to have a high turnover rate that is not exactly indicative of their skill.
Free throws and offensive rebounding have allowed Pepperdine to be merely bad instead of cover-your-eyes awful on offense. They have the 62nd best free throw rate in the country and 67th best offensive rebounding percentage. Moore and Darby are both good at drawing fouls and crashing the boards. Charlie Enquist, Brock Motum, and D.J. Shelton will have to be fundamentally sound in their box outs and defense.
Rebounding and free throws may be the biggest area of concern for the WSU defense in this one. Their perimeter defense has improved, so that may not be an issue. If the Cougs can force the Wave guards to go inside where they are much less comfortable, they can have some success.
Pepperdine has done a good job of limiting opponents' shooting so far this season. Wave competition has posted just a 46 eFG%. They've really held down the inside, giving up just 44% of twos. Opponents will tend to shoot more threes than average against Pepperdine, so that may be a sign of a focus on stopping dribble penetration and feeds to the post. The turnover rate also suggests that Pepperdine doesn't take a lot of chances out on the perimeter as well, as they are forcing opponents to turn the ball over on just 19% of possessions.
The Waves are an excellent defensive rebounding team. Moore is the leader, as he pulls down 22.5% of the rebounds on his own. Moore should be a good test for Enquist, who has experienced some success against smaller teams as of late.
The Cougars will most likely need to leave their mark from the free throw line to have a highly successful offensive night. This is Pepperdine's biggest weakness on defense. They are 264th in the country in opponents' free throw rate. WSU is 54th in offensive free throw rate. That is an area where the Cougs have the advantage.
WSU will likely be running into a team that plays some sound defensive basketball and doesn't try to jump passing lanes or leak out for an easy transition bucket for often. They are going to attack the defensive glass and make it difficult to find a shot inside the arc. The Cougars' should be encouraged to force the issue a little bit, and try not to play into Pepperdine's game. The Waves are a fouling bunch, and WSU should be rewarded. Go to the rim, young men.
This is a game in which WSU should be able to lead comfortably. They may not blow Pepperdine out the way they did Santa Clara (really can't play any better than that) but they have enough advantages in key areas that they will be able to come through with a double-digit victory.